May 7, 2014; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Baltimore Orioles relief pitcher Tommy Hunter (29) talks with catcher Caleb Joseph (36) during the ninth inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. Baltimore Orioles defeated the Tampa Bay Rays 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Tommy Hunter: Nine Lives Run Out

Baltimore Orioles closer Tommy Hunter, who has been living on the edge all year with no 1-2-3 innings to his credit, had his cat-like nine lives come to an end Tuesday evening. Giving up a two-out three-run homer to the incomparable Miguel Cabrera, he blew a 1-0 lead on the way to an Orioles 4-1 loss to the Tigers.

This one hurt! No doubt about it. It blew not only a game, but also a stellar seven-inning shutout performance by Ubaldo Jimenez.

It didn’t have to end this way, and maybe it should not have. After giving up yet another leadoff single, a stolen base by Rajai Davis was originally ruled an out until overturned. Bad break, and maybe a bad call. But even so, Hunter had the other Hunter (of the Torii type), down to a final strike before walking him and bringing Cabrera to the plate.

The last thing I want to do is sound like a know-it-all, told-you-so sports writer from a distance. But I don’t think anyone needs to be even as much as whatever I am to see that this Hunter closer thing was not destined for success at a high level.

I still hate the designated closer philosophy, but if you are going to believe in it – and Showalter clearly does with all his heart – I don’t blame the Orioles’ manager for trying Hunter in the role. There was no more obvious candidate in the spring, and Tommy does have the mentality for it.

But at this point, Zach Britton would be a much better choice … or even Darren O’Day for that matter. So, less than 25% of the season in the books, with the Orioles in first place in the AL East, it has (I certainly hope) been learned that Tommy Hunter – good guy extraordinaire – is not suited for this role.

Just move on… which is what we’ll do in anticipation of Wednesday’s series finale afternoon game against the Tigers (and season finale until the O’s beat them in the American League Championship Series in October).

So, 17 hours after being beaten by one swing of the bat by what is generally considered the best overall hitter in the game, the Orioles will need to face the generally-considered best starting pitcher in the sport. This is life against the Detroit Tigers and is what makes them the current cream of the AL.

Justin Verlander takes the hill for Tigers. But here is the good news – he is the only Detroit pitcher that the Orioles have beaten this year! That was back on April 6th in Detroit in an epic pitching battle against Chris Tillman. The Orioles managed two runs on five hits in eight innings.

Verlander actually also lost his most recent game against the Twins, but again, he only gave up two runs in seven innings. He is yet to give up more than three runs in a game and comes in with a 4-2 record and 2.67 ERA.

Over his career, the native Virginian is 8-2 against the Orioles with a 3.18 ERA. In 14 games and 99 innings he has given up 35 runs on 81 hits, including 10 homers.

It is difficult to find any great stats against him – probably true of every team he faces. J.J. Hardy has three homers with an 8-for-31, while Nick Markakis is 12-for-45. However, Adam Jones is 4-for-30 with a homer, Nelson Cruz is 5-for-28 with two homers, and Delmon Young is 6-for-30.

The Orioles will be giving Kevin Gausman his first start of 2014. Will this be the beginning of a regular turn in the rotation for years to come? Fans certainly hope so. The Orioles will have Miguel Gonzalez standing by for multiple innings relief – a role I have proposed in recent articles best suits him if a sufficient replacement starter can be found.

Gausman was 2.08 in his AAA Norfolk starts, though he was on a strict pitch count. He is coming off a bout with pneumonia. It would seem that would take an edge off his ability to be fully excellent, but we’ll see what happens.

Gausman’s first career win was against the Tigers on June 2nd of last season in a 4-2 victory. He gave up one run on five hits over six innings – a solo homer by Prince Fielder, so, no shame in that.

Tags: Baltimore Orioles Kevin Gausman Tommy Hunter

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